whisky tasting

An evening with Laphroaig’s Dan Woolley

Posted by: Nick

Laphroaig Dinner 1

Dan Woolley only drinks whisky. Not beer, not wine, not vodka. Not even crème de menthe. Some would say he’s obsessed – himself included. His wife made him choose between her and whisky. He’s happily single now.

There is one whisky, however, that he obsesses over above all others: Laphroaig. He is one of the top brand ambassadors for Islay’s peated behemoth and I count myself enormously lucky to have spent an evening in his company as he talked us through seven (yes! Seven!) different drams of Laphroaig. While the majority of guests were enamoured by the smoky sensations in their glasses, not everyone was convinced. This is a fact Laphroaig have not only come to terms with but embraced, forming the theme of the dinner: Opinions. As Dan said: “if we all liked the same thing we’d all be drinking vodka lime and soda and I’d have killed myself a long time ago.”

Laphroaig Dinner 2

The Central in Devonport put on a fabulous event with many amazing courses all created from local ingredients. In particular the natural Spring Bay oysters went down a treat – particularly with a dash of Laphroaig Select cask dribbled on top.

The Select Cask was up first – an entry level for sure – but while sipping it I learned about the fascinating range of casks that went into creating it. A Whisky Waffle favourite was up next, the Quarter Cask, a whisky which spends the final nine months of its gestation in 100L barrels like a chain smoking baby.

Laphroaig Dinner 3

It wouldn’t be a Laphroaig night without the highest selling peated whisky on the planet: the 10 Year Old. Made to an “old family recipe” it packed the required peaty punch and is the ever faithful “backbone” of the Laphroaig flavour. Next up was Dan’s favourite, the Triple Wood. It was sweeter and fruitier than those that went before thanks to two years spent in Spanish Oloroso barrels.

Dan then laid down the Lore, a dram he described as their most ambitious whisky yet. Distillery manager John Campbell attempted to create a bottle of Laphroaig that tasted like what was offered 200 years ago. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but it was certainly one of the tastiest and smokiest of the night. In the words of Dan, “it makes Port Ellen taste like Johnny Walker Red”.

Laphroaig Dinner 4

The final two drops were particularly special – made even more so by the lack of availability worldwide. Drinking the 18 Year Old and 25 Year Old was a weird experience as by this end of the night my palate had stopped noticing the peat in each dram and I was discovering subtle and nuanced flavours underneath. The 18 was lighter and mysterious, like chasing a nymph through an enchanted wood. The 25 was a Laphroaig dessert whisky – strawberries, white chocolate, whipped cream and other naughty indulgences. The peat was hidden away at the back of the palate and made me wish I could repeat the tasting the next day but in reverse order.

The night concluded in a truly memorable fashion, as every participant in the dinner was presented with a customised Laphroaig bottle to take away. Mine was particularly appropriate considering the tasting notes found within this very article. Dan graciously added his signature to the unique bottle, along with this piece of wisdom: “Do you know what the best whisky in the world is? Free whisky.”

Laphroaig Dinner 5

It was an educational and enjoyable evening, capped with a rousing toast which I can’t help but repeat: “LONG LIVE LAPHROAIG!”

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Larking about at Lark

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Fact: the modern Tasmanian distilling scene was founded by Bill Lark.

Fact: the foundations for Whisky Waffle were laid down at the Lark bar.

Fact: it is rather shameful that we have never found the time to visit the Lark distillery

Recently the Whisky Waffle boys were down in Hobart with a rare free day to spend on whisky business, so we decided to take the opportunity to rectify an embarrassing gap in our Tasmanian distillery bucket list and tag along on an official Lark distillery tour.

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We were about to run away with the barrels when we discovered they were empty.

Lark offers a two-hour daily guided tour of their distillery facility out at Cambridge, 15min east of Hobart. Our tour started at the Lark bar in Hobart where we met Guy, our guide, and the rest of the group. To work out in what order to hand out the complimentary Lark tasting glasses, Guy started off by asking how close everyone lived to the distillery. Surprisingly it turned out that we North West coasters were the only true locals, with the other guests ranging from Melbourne and Sydney to Alabama.

After introductions we all piled into the tour van, affectionately known as the ‘Drambulance’. On the way out to Cambridge Guy regaled us with tales of the history of the Australian whisky scene and the part Bill Lark played in its resurrection. The road into the distillery passes through the grounds of Frogmore Creek winery, the vines providing wild yeast that is encouraged into the Lark fermentation vats to help create the unique Lark flavour.

The distillery itself, in true Australian fashion, is in a large tin shed that overlooks the Coal River Valley. Upon arrival we donned fluoro vests and met Chris Thomson, the self-proclaimed ‘most experienced distiller in Australia’ (and who are we to argue with him).

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Chris Thomson was also thrilled to meet the two most experienced Tasmanian whisky bloggers in Australia! (again self-proclaimed)

To lubricate our minds before starting the tour we were provided with a dram of the Lark Classic Cask, a perfect breakfast whisky (or at any other time of the day for that matter). Guy and Chris took us through the distilling process at Lark, from the Bill Lark-designed peat smoker, to the fermentation and the distillation.

Along the way the way we were able to try wort (aka sweet barley juice), wash (aka unhopped beer) and new-make spirit, which was fruity and soft. Chris gave us some handy nuggets of distilling advice such as “when going from the fores to the heart we smell and smell and smell and smell and smell and smell” and “using our amazing distillers skills we make the first cut,” *moves hose casually from one vat to another* “Very technical”.

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Those are some niiiiice sparge arms!

The final part of the tour was spent in the bond store (also a large tin shed) where Guy told us about barrel making and aging. We were also able to try some Lark straight from the barrel, which Guy fished out with a spirit thief, as well as some whisky from sister-distillery Overeem. Also on offer were Lark’s whisky liqueur, Sláinte, and several variants of their Forty Spotted gin.

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Every Lark tour is a barrel of laughs.

At the end of the sampling session our merry band of tourers re-embarked the Drambulance and headed back to the Lark bar. The tour had been a pleasant and informative mix of whisky stories, hands-on experience, technical information and waffling. Most importantly, we Waffle boys were finally able to show our faces in public again and proudly say that we had been to the distillery that started it all.

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The best thing about whisky tour groups is that you all end up best mates at the end!

Sprinkbank Gaja Barolo Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-gaja-barolo

This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.

Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.

For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.

The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.

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(Although sometimes ****)